I happen to be one of a small and ever-shrinking number of Americans with something called "paid vacation." Granted, as an instructor at a public university I do not technically have paid vacation (it is never called that) but I do not have to work for three weeks in December. Or a week for Spring Break. Or three months of summer – although I usually get pressed into service for that one. This is the ultimate "benefit." It is why I and many other graduate students continue to endure the endless politicking, ass-kissing, back-stabbing, and generalized intellectual grab-ass that define academia. It is why I will not make a lot of money in my life, nor will I enjoy much freedom of movement (we go where the jobs are). And I decided, after several years in a grisly, relatively well-paid Real World job, that it is worth it.

I don't like working. If you do, I humbly submit that there is something wrong with you. Sure, there's the odd person here or there who enjoys their profession. At the very least you might enjoy your job more than the available alternatives. But do you really like working? If you didn't have to do it, would you? Frankly I'd find a lot more fulfilling ways to spend my time even if I had a fantasy fun job. I suppose this makes me "lazy" and responsible for our economy's inability to compete with the Chinese. I could not possibly care less. We were not put on this Earth to make widgets.

Sometime after, oh, 1980 the consensus in America apparently became that vacation is a vestigial anachronism of Second Wave post-war regulated capitalism (along with things like unions, pensions, and government regulation). It would shock most Americans to learn how different Things are in our neck of the woods when compared to other advanced industrial democracies. Take a serious gander at how we stack up against Europe. Whereas almost every nation in Western Europe mandates at least 20 paid vacation days per annum (that's an entire month of workdays) we here in the Land of Whose Lifestyle the World is So Envious mandate none. As a result, most of us receive exactly that. Even the Japanese, whose mythologized "kamikaze" work ethic was postulated as the explanation for why their industry kicked our ass so badly over the past 20 years, legally mandate 2 weeks.


"But! But!" says your inner Hannity, "Look at how much less productive their economies are! Look at how horrendously high their taxes are!" True. Very true. However, if that was your first reaction I have to wonder…who are you? Is your life really so joyless and your acquisitiveness so severe that you'd willingly trade the 30 paid days off they enjoy in France for the right to pay 30% in federal income tax rather than 45%? How miserable is your home life, and how limited or nonexistent are your interests (outside of shopping) that you would rather make a little more money than have time to enjoy it?

I'd like you to sound off in the comments for a very informal poll. What do you get in the way of paid vacation? And let's not forget holidays. Does your December holiday time consist of getting the 25th off and heading back to work the morning of the 26th? Of all the things that depress me about the direction in which we're headed, I think the worst is that the glories of Third Wave capitalism have instilled in our population the idea that having Memorial Day, the 4th of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas off from work is good enough. I wonder how many people actually console themselves at the end of another 50-hour week by saying "This is all worth it when I see our GDP." More likely they're drowning their sorrows in the delusion that they'll "make it" in some sort of Horatio Alger ascension to Independent Wealth. Then every day will be a vacation! Good luck with that.

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  • I have pooled sick time and vacation that totals 25 days a year, plus 8 holidays. So if I don't get sick, I have 5 weeks of vacation. I know I am in the minority.

  • I'm like you, Ed. I work for my local university but as staff. Therefore, I get all the legal state holidays: MLK Day, the last Friday of spring break (usually), Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving and the day after Thanksgiving, and the big payoff, the week of Christmas all the way to Jan 2. This year that was 12/22-1/2. Sweet. I've never before had a job that gave me that many days off for the holidays. Plus, I earn 8 hrs of sick leave and, after 4 yrs of service, 9 hrs of annual leave per month. Again, sweet.

    Keith, OTOH, gets 5 vacation/sick days per year that are use or lose. That's it. Holidays are Christmas, New Year's Day, Thanksgiving, 4th of July plus 3 floating holidays to make up for the official federal holidays he can't have. He works for a private company and that's incredibly generous considering other places he's worked in the past. When he worked for the strip club in Atlanta, they were open on Christmas.

  • I'm a student, so I get holidays off. However, I don't ever really get "paid", so I do not qualify for this.

    I will say this, though. When I went on vacation to the Virgin Islands last summer, I met and talked with a guy from England and a couple from Denmark. And boy, did they have it made in the vacation department. The couple from Denmark said they once rented a car out West in the US and visited like 20 National Parks in six weeks of paid vacation. It made me sad because I will probably never be able to do this, except maybe when I'm 65 and can still walk, use the bathroom on my own, actually have money, etc. It must be nice to live in a society where people actually matter and have realized their human rights.

    You are right: work sucks. Anybody who puts work as their #1 thing to do hasn't really lived and lacks a soul.

  • Unfortunately, the public sector and academia are the only two remaining areas of our economy that care to provide meaningful benefits, and it would be foolish to expect that to change any time soon. The corporate sector worked hard from about 1960 onwards to drive back the unions and the benefits they had fought for, and the ripple effects are still accumulating.

    I completely concur that it is dehumanizing to place work first. I work in the private sector, and while I don't get any paid vacation at all, I choose to forego about $10K in salary in order to work from home year-round. It's worth every penny; I have more control over my life, and how I feel at the beginning and end of each day, than I ever had before.

  • I have no official paid holiday time, flex time, sick time, or even overtime. My boss paid us 35 hours for Christmas week.

  • I work for a public university, so again, my benefits are probably better than most. I earn one day of vacation per month, and it rolls over from year to year. Right now I have about 80 hours of vacation "saved up" — but since we're chronically understaffed (and! housing market catastrophe = budget cuts = hiring freeze = I'm doing 2 people's jobs!) and overworked I don't have "time" to take it. If I quit, though, they'll have to pay me for it.

    I get 40 hours of sick leave per year, separate from vacation, and also 16 hours of personal leave separate from both sick and vacation time. Which is kind of great, and boy do I use it. Neither sick leave nor personal leave roll over at the end the the year, so it's use it or lose it.

    Holidays…we have all the usual ones off, and usually the governor and the university president each give us a half day off before Thanksgiving and Christmas, so we never end up working Christmas Eve or the Wednesday before T-Day. The lesser (well, you know what I mean) holidays — President's Day, MLK Day, Columbus Day — we get off, but not ON the day. We work the actual holiday, then we're supposed to get the day off between Christmas and New Year's so that we have that whole week off. BUT that's my office's busy time, so we have to be at work anyway. So I "get" those holidays, but not really. Make what you will of that.

    Guess I'm still lucky compared to the rest of the US, but damn do I want to move to Europe sometimes…

  • I'm in the minority with 22 days pooled sick/vacation and 8 or 9 holidays… Nevertheless, like most of the people I work with, I rarely actually get to use any of that time and I suspect that is not unusual in the business world.
    Anyway, I blame capitalism and big business. Not because I have any real facts at the ready, but simply because they piss me off.

  • Being a student, I get zero days of paid work, but that's of course to be expected. I'm only commenting because I've had quite a bit of experience with German university/work vacations (lived/"studied" there for an entire year). While at IU we don't even get fucking Labor Day off, Germans get every conceivable holiday off. Fuck, students in southern Germany, where I studied, got a week off for Pentecost. Yes, an entire week for Pentecost. So of course I channeled the european spirit and took a trip to Norway for a week.

    A roommate of mine in Germany also got a job somewhere in Bavaria and told me that she was receiving something like 14 days of paid leave per annum. She asked what was normal in the US and didn't believe me when I said zero.

  • Fellow academic, me, so same deal. The benefits package that comes with university-level employment is not to be sneered at, when considering the 'will never be rich' cost of our career–to wit, we gots us some mighty fine health coverage (dental, drugs, and vision all standard), some nice retirement packages, and often get hugely subsidized housing. A lotta pros that go with the cons of staff meetings and grading 83 copies of the same damn mediocre essay…And yes, long vacations. Which, it should be pointed out, many of us use to be academically productive, so it's not as if we're sipping mai-tais at the Barbados Sandals.

  • I'm also in academia, but in the high school world. Also, I work at a charter, so instead of the normal 2 wks xmas/1 wk spring break/9wks summer (total: 12 weeks off), I get 2 wks for xmas, 1 wk for fall and 1 for spring, and 6wks in the summertime (total: 10 wks). Which would be great, if my brain wasn't so fucking fried all the time when I'm working–contractually I work from 8am to 4pm, but in actuality I work from 6 or 7 am until 5 or 6 pm most days, with about 10 minutes for lunch. So, in my mind, I sort of end up working my full-time job in shorter bursts, like somebody who works a 40-hour week in four 10-hour days.

    still, bitch bitch. I could do a much crappier job at my job and get hella time off, especially if I used all 10 of my paid sick/personal days and however many professional days I'm supposed to get. I'm actually not even sure, since it's way more of a pain in the ass to take days off than it is to just go in and teach while I'm sick.

    WHEEE! Can you tell that the time leading up to winter break was especially stressful this year?

    I'm looking forward to seeing you this weekend, Ed!

  • I get 14 days paid vacation. I get roughly 2 months when I'm "on call"—- the rules are not to stray more than an hour's travel away from the job site during normal work hours— basically a paid vacation that precludes travel.

    I don't work in America, or any of the other countries in the above graph. However, when I did work in America, I got 20 days PTO, with the promise of a 20 day increase in 5 years, then a total of 60 days PTO if I lasted ten years. My previous job was call center.

    So— get yelled at by angry customers all day at a fortune 500 company, or move overseas. That's what I'm willing to do to get paid vacations.

  • Sorry I'm late with my comment, but since so many are from academia I wanted to submit my vacation days too. Besides, I'm always interested in comparing data.

    I work for a big corporation and I get 25 days of paid time off each year, plus 6 company holidays. Memorial Day, 4th of July, etc. It's a lot more than I got at my last job (also a big corporation), but I'd happily take more and pay more taxes. I'm no econ major, but I also think that the "more time at work = bigger GNP" equation is crap. You think I'm more productive because I'm here for 46 weeks a year? Hardly.

    Oh, and you'll like this too. I'm a level 4 in my job and am exempt, and last spring they reclassified all the level 3's as non-exempt, which meant that they all lost a week of vacation. My co-worker one level lower than me went from 25 days PTO to 20 days just because they changed her job classification. She quit not to soon after that.

  • I used to work in broadcast ad sales. Definitely a unique work situation. If you load up your sales and keep your goals met early in the month, you can cruise through the rest of the month and maintain. It's nearly like a paid vacation. However, for the two weeks of alloted "vacation time," it's nearly pointless to take it, because you're still responsible for taking client calls and dealing with shit unless your sales manager or one of your co-workers likes you and will do it for you while you're gone. And when you're working in straight commission sales, it's hard to trust anyone else with your money.

    The end result? I'm working towards entering academia.

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